Study Purpose: Considerable research has identified what motivates existing older adult volunteers (OAVs). The purpose of this study was to ask new older adult volunteers about their expectations of their volunteer experience and volunteer management (VM), and then to interpret these results in terms of existing models of older adult VM. Methods: Qualitative interviews were conducted with 43 incoming OAVs who defined their expectations about volunteering and VM. The main themes regarding older adults’ expectations were extracted using qualitative content analysis. Results: Older adults identified six practice expectations they considered essential to develop and effectively manage older-adult volunteer programs: a) create a new vision for effective inclusion of OAVs; b) develop complex, engaging roles; c) assess lifelong competencies to ensure job matching; d) balance autonomy and support in orientation, training, supervision, and evaluation; e) ensure volunteer recognition, retention, and quality communication; and f) document OAVs’ contribution to the organization and society. Implications: These results advance knowledge and practice in professional volunteer-management fields and gerontology by suggesting amendments to VM structures to meet the personal and social expectations of older adults. Some of the OAVs’ expectations align with existing volunteer management best practices (valuing the role of volunteers; defining rules and expectations; developing volunteer management skills; reducing client and group risk; creating clear assignments; reaching beyond the circle; orienting and training volunteers; providing supervision; making volunteers feel they belong; and recognizing volunteer contributions) but others advance our understanding of the unique needs of OAVs. Policy changes that support government funding for internal organizational assessments may help smaller and less well financed organizations to explore adaptations needed to best meet the expectations of a growing OAV base. Cost-effective measures, built on strong empirical support for best practices in senior VM, will need to be available for organizations to feel secure and motivated to make changes. Smaller organizations could potentially begin by engaging in lower cost activities, carefully examining their own priorities and current VM practices, and make changes to organizational policies and practices. Organizations that incorporate the insights of older adults on their expectations of VM may maximize OAVs’ engagement and retention in volunteering, help reduce negative social attitudes toward aging, and benefit from older adults’ skill sets and full potential.
This research was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research (MOP 97844) grant.